An initiative to teach in the mother tongue failing | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 23, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:33 AM, February 23, 2020


An initiative to teach in the mother tongue failing

Teachers need long, intensive training

The poor outcome of a government initiative to ensure that children from minority ethnic communities are given early childhood education in their mother tongue is symptomatic of how well-intentioned projects are doomed to fail if they are not well thought out. Lack of planning and properly structuring of this initiative seem to be at the bottom of such failure.

The idea was that ethnic minority students would learn exclusively in their mother tongue from pre-school level up to class II and gradually learn Bangla from class III. The government has even published textbooks in various ethnic languages in 2012. In 2017 it was distributing textbooks in several languages. Sounds like great progress except there is a gaping flaw: the teachers assigned to teach the languages can speak the languages but cannot read or write in them. Now how will a teacher teach if he or she herself does not have such basic skills in the language? It is not rocket science to know that to have command over a language requires intensive training. According to a report in this paper, so far only 38.6 percent of the 4,204 ethnic community teachers in three hill districts have attended a 14-day training on their respective languages. How can anyone, no matter how high their IQ, be able to master the script of a new language, enough to be able to teach children in 14 days? To expect such a thing is quite unrealistic.

It is quite hard to understand why such a positive initiative by the government should go to waste because of ill planning and obvious lack of vision regarding how the project can be successful. Even several district education officials have admitted that the existing training is far from adequate mainly because it is just too short in duration. Surprisingly, in Sylhet, where there are several ethnic minority communities, there has been no training at all.

The government must therefore, take immediate steps to increase the training period—to at least three months initially as suggested by a professor of linguistics as this is a multilingual teaching system. In addition, there should be ongoing training for the teachers so that they can keep brushing up their language skills.

The logistics of teaching children from different ethnic communities who are in the same class, also have to be worked out. Unless a proper structure and planning for training these teachers is chalked out and implemented, such a welcome government initiative will just fade away into oblivion.

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